THE Irish aviation company that has stranded 34 trainee pilots in Florida passed an inspection of its financial health last year, the Irish Independent has learnt.
The revelation will spark questions over how a company with a clean bill of fiscal health can end up in a situation where students are set to lose substantial amounts of money -- many paid as much as €85,000 in fees.
While the Waterford-based Pilot Training College (PTC) has denied it is responsible for the fiasco, it has consistently refused to answer questions addressing its finances.
Government agency Enterprise Ireland confirmed to RTE News today that it was a significant investor in the PTC.
The training centre received €18,000 in support from Enterprise Ireland in 2008 and in 2010, and the development agency took a significant stake in the form of €400,000 worth of repayable preference shares.
A spokesman for Enterprise Ireland acknowledged the concern there is about the Irish and other citizens, now stuck without training in Florida, but would not be comment further on the situation.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), which conducts standards and financial inspections on such firms, has said it gave the PTC a clean bill of health.
A spokeswoman said the examinations include checking safety, standards and financial aspects of companies, but it does not examine the actual books.
"We don't audit their financial accounts as such. What we have to receive is a financial statement that is either signed off by their bank or by their auditors which states that there are sufficient funds in their accounts to pay any bills on an ongoing basis," she said.
"We were satisfied that everything was in place at the time, and they got their approval."
Further requests for PTC owner Mike Edgeworth to address the issue went unanswered last night.
However, finances are now firmly at the centre of the controversy with fears that students may not get their money back.
Mr Edgeworth recently forecast revenues of €20m for his company in the next year.
It has emerged that the PTC signed a €12m deal to train Bahrainis six months ago. It won the multi-million-euro contract to train 150 foreign cadets in January of this year.
PTC's difficulties were not apparent when chief executive Captain Mike Edgeworth publicly spoke in March 2012. He gave interviews about how the focus of the business had shifted from self-funded students to airline contracts.
Mr Edgeworth has refused to answer questions posed by the Irish Independent.
On Wednesday, the IAA moved to suspend the PTC's Waterford licence after seeking assurances it had adequate financial structures in place.
The PTC said that it had been assessing its options with regard to financial restructuring. The suspension of practice at its Waterford facility has affected a further 37 students.
On Wednesday the PTC issued a statement saying it had terminated its relationship with its Florida partner due to contractual issues.
But yesterday, the Florida Institute of Technology, the sub-contracted aviation school that was teaching the trainees, said it had cancelled the contract with the PTC due to "non-payment for delivered services".
- Mark Hilliard and Eimear Ni Bhraonain